The next South Carolina State Veterans Nursing Home will be in the Midlands.
The Joint Bond Review Committee, an influential 10-member legislative body that oversees the state’s capital improvement projects, on Tuesday approved the Department of Mental Health’s recommendation to locate its next veterans home in County of ‘Orangeburg.
With the addition of an Orangeburg County facility, the Department of Mental Health now has three Veterans nursing homes under construction and two newly constructed homes approaching opening dates.
Four of the five facilities are located in the hometowns of the Joint Bond Review Committee members who approved their construction.
State Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, who sits on the Joint Bond Review Committee, called building a veterans facility in Orangeburg a “game changer” for the county and for veterans of the region.
âOrangeburg County presents itself as the logistics triangle because of our location, and therefore from a logistics standpoint, it will really improve access to care for veterans, not just in Orangeburg County. but in Bamberg, Allendale, Clarendon, in this region â, she declared. âI am very excited about the potential this installation will mean for Orangeburg. “
Kenisha Grimes, head of veterans affairs for Orangeburg County, said a local veterans nursing home would be a blessing. Many county veterans in need of this level of care are forced to pay out of pocket at private facilities because they cannot get beds at the public homes closest to Walterboro and Columbia.
âThey would love to be in a veteran friendly nursing home,â she said. “But those who try to get there are put on a list and sometimes end up passing before they are accepted into either of those homes.”
The five new state-run veterans’ homes, slated to open over the next decade, will reduce the long-standing backlog in housing for elderly and disabled veterans in South Carolina by roughly doubling the number of beds available, increasing from 530 to more than 1,000.
The state is home to nearly 400,000 veterans, nearly half of whom are 65 or older.
Prior to the pandemic, the state’s existing veterans homes in Anderson, Columbia and Walterboro were all at capacity with long waiting lists. Even today, with fewer total residents in facilities than in March 2020, homes are maintaining waiting lists, officials said.
Why Orangeburg County?
Orangeburg County was chosen as the site of the next veterans home because of its location, perceived accessibility, and proximity to several colleges and nursing programs.
Although it ranks only 20th out of 46 counties in its expected number of veterans aged 65 and over, Orangeburg either crosses the border or is easily accessible to six of the top 13 counties that are expected to have the oldest veterans between. 2020 and 2040, according to a department of mental health analysis.
Orangeburg’s proximity to Interstate 26 – which runs through the county – and its relatively central location in the state make it accessible to coastal communities where the largest populations of aging veterans live, while still being away from areas of hurricane evacuation.
Another selling point for the county is the assortment of colleges and universities located in or near that a nursing home operator could tap for employees, mental health officials said. These include the state of South Carolina and Claflin, two historically black universities, and the technical colleges of Orangeburg-Calhoun and Denmark.
âWhen we think of internships for students and stuff like that, it’s an opportunity that goes beyond just providing veterans nursing,â Cobb-Hunter said. âIt also provides opportunities for workforce development and partnerships with four HBCUs in the region. “
While the facility is unlikely to be built for at least a decade, authorities are now seeking approval due to the slow and uncertain federal funding process.
If the ministry’s grant request is added to the Veterans Administration’s priority funding list for 2023, federal dollars for a new veterans home could be available by 2031, health officials said. mental.
The estimated cost to build a new home in 2031 is $ 87.3 million, with the price split 65-35 between federal and state dollars.
If approved, the state will have to pay $ 30.6 million, which the Mental Health Ministry plans to request as part of next year’s capital budget request.
Status of New SC Veterans Homes
The Orangeburg facility joins the future veterans homes of Florence, Cherokee, Sumter and Horry counties which are in various stages of completion.
The Florence and Gaffney (Cherokee County) facilities are being built, but have not yet started accepting residents. Both are expected to be open early next year, mental health officials said.
The state has acquired land for the Sumter House and is working with the local Veterans Affairs office on the final design phase of this project. The Department of Mental Health is preparing to issue a tender for it in January, and construction is expected to begin in late spring, said Mark Binkley, the department’s director of government and legislative affairs.
The agency has not yet defined a site for the Horry County facility or received a federal grant to build it, but Binkley said there was reason to believe it would eventually receive funding status. priority. It’s hard to say when federal money for the project will be available, but officials currently predict that construction will begin no later than 2028.
Aiken County, which in early 2020 had been mentioned alongside Sorry as one of two potential sites for the state’s next veterans home, lost to Orangeburg County as ‘it is home to more than twice as many veterans.
While Aiken’s inclusion on the shortlist was in part due to its relatively high number of veterans over 65, the biggest draw was its location in far west South Carolina, Binkley said. .
At the time, the Joint Duty Review Committee was focused on locating nursing homes in all corners of the state, and a facility in Aiken would have given families in that area a nursing home option. practical where there was none before.
However, with the completion of the houses in Florence and Gaffney and projects underway in Sumter and Horry counties, geographic diversity is now less important to the committee, Binkley said.
Orangeburg’s proximity to Berkeley, Dorchester, and Charleston counties – all of which are in the top 10 for the projected population of veterans over 65 – coupled with its distance from coastal evacuation areas. drove past Aiken, he said.
Cobb-Hunter said she didn’t believe Orangeburg was chosen over Aiken, especially as mental health officials continued with their review process, which included both counties, and returned a decision based on certain criteria.
She said she did not speak to mental health officials about the establishment of a new veterans facility in her county, but that as a member of the Joint Obligations Review Committee which represents Orangeburg, she naturally defends the county whenever she has the chance.
âI have not had a conversation with Mental Health, but I have made it clear for at least five years now that Orangeburg County, given our population, deserves to have a facility where our residents do not have. not to drive that far. for care, and families didn’t have to drive this far to visit, âshe said.